Do bears have more heart attacks than bulls?
Fortunately, this is not an issue I encounter everyday in my cardiology practice, but a recent Duke study suggests that maybe I should be reading The Wall Street Journal in addition to the American Heart Journal. Researchers found during a three-year period that as stock prices decreased, the frequency of heart attacks increased, and vice versa.
We already know natural or man-made catastrophes have also been associated with increases in cardiac events – and depending on your politics, the stock market could be either.
Once again, the idea is reinforced that volatility in our lives can impact our health – and it also suggests that our cardiovascular system is more tenuous than we might like to think. Small fluctuations in blood pressure, heart rate and even inflammatory cytokines in our blood stream can trigger heart attacks – particularly in individuals with a history of heart disease or significant risk factors.
When I see data like this, I’m struck by how real the mind-heart connection seems to be, but also by how little we know about how to deal with it. Data on cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants are encouraging in large-scale studies, but still do not provide an answer when you have an argument with your spouse, get some bad news or even when the Dow is down another 10%.
Is there something you can do to make a difference in your own life?
Try yoga. While it’s easy to tell people to relax, yoga actually provides a concrete framework for doing so. There’s already data that yoga is associated with improvements in arthritis, lung disease and body weight – why not the cardiovascular system? One study found that individuals with coronary artery disease who took a six-week yoga course improved endothelial-dependent vasodilatation by 69%.
This suggests that a healthy mind may result in some healthier blood vessels. We know that endothelial dysfunction is a significant contributor to heart attacks – could a meditation prescription be in your future?
It’s a lot cheaper than medication, and aside from the occasional pulled hamstring, it has few side effects. Who knows? The next time you see your physician, you might be asked to “Say Om.”
In the meantime, try not to check your investment portfolio every day…
- James Beckerman, MD, FACC
How do you deal with the stress of everyday life? Share your ideas on the WebMD Heart Disease Exchange.